So far, Facebook's missteps and scandals have had little impact on its bottom line.
Civil rights activists don't think the the company will change its policies unless it starts to feel financial pressure to do so. The company's revenue has only grown in recent years – even as it has been engulfed in a series of scandals since revelations of Russia's broad 2016 campaign to divide American voters on its platform.
Facebook generated nearly $70 billion in advertising revenue in 2019, as the company faced global criticism for allowing politicians to lie on its platform and for mishandling user privacy. That's up 27 percent from 2018, when the company had $55 billion in ad sales.
Pressure is mounting for more brands to join.
Shortly after The North Face’s announcement, Patagonia and REI also said they would boycott advertising on Facebook, underscoring how one company’s move can have a domino effect on competitors.
“From secure elections to a global pandemic to racial justice, the stakes are too high to sit back and let the company continue to be complicit in spreading disinformation and fomenting fear and hatred," Patagonia said in a statement to The Technology 202. “As companies across the country work hard to ensure that Americans have access to free and fair elections this fall, we can’t stand by and contribute resources to companies that contribute to the problem.”
At least one major advertising agency, 360i, has advised clients to support the boycott, the Wall Street Journal first reported. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also told advertisers last week they have “tremendous leverage” to force the social network to crack down on disinformation.
“Advertisers are in a position, they have power to discourage platforms from amplifying dangerous and even life-threatening disinformation,” she said at a conference.
But the campaign has its limits.
So far, most of the advertisers have only committed to limiting advertising for one month. Many major brands have yet to say whether they will participate, and the boycotting companies so far are just a small sliver of the many advertisers on the platform.
Facebook has made major investments to improve its systems and teams rooting out racism, health disinformation and other harmful content since the fallout of the 2016 election.
But the company’s recent decisions to take little action against posts from President Trump that appear to violate its policies have escalated tensions with civil rights leaders and Democrats. The company did not act on a Trump post saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” which Twitter flagged for violating its policies on glorifying violence.
“We deeply respect any brand’s decision, and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information,” Carolyn Everson, vice president of the global business group at Facebook, said in a statement. “Our conversations with marketers and civil rights organizations are about how, together, we can be a force for good.”
The North Face was the first major brand to announce it was stopping all advertising on Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram, effective June 19. Steve Lesnard, the company’s global vice president of marketing, spoke to me about the decision. Here’s our conversation, edited for length and clarity:
Technology 202: What led The North Face to make this decision to pull advertising?
Lesnard: We're living in a cultural moment of pain, and we believe at The North Face that normal is is not good enough. We all need to drive positive change immediately. So over the last few months, we've all been shaken up a bit and we feel like action always speaks louder than the words.
When we saw that call to action, we felt like The North Face could really help and fuel and lead that movement by halting all paid advertising on Facebook in the hopes to inspire them to reconsider their policies for stricter rules on hate speech and on racist rhetoric. It’s really a natural extension of the stance that we’ve been taking. And we feel like we need to drive positive change immediately.
Technology 202: Were there specific Facebook decisions that you disagreed with?
Lesnard: The decision was not focused specifically on one incident, but rather around overall policy. We’ve seen too much hate speech or racist rhetoric that was on the platform. And we really hope that Facebook will adopt stricter rules and policies moving forward.
Technology 202: If the company doesn’t adopt stricter rules, will you resume advertising in August?
Lesnard: We will reconsider in the next 30 days. We are joining the movement as a global brand, and we invite other brands to join and push Facebook to reconsider. We will closely monitor and reevaluate within 30 days.
Technology 202: You’ve mentioned you’re hoping other brands join the movement as well. Do you think this will be a turning point in the advertising industry?
Lesnard: We certainly hope so. We all need to drive positive change immediately. We hope these actions that we've taken are going to help drive a healthy dialogue and immediate action as well.
Technology 202: How much does The North Face typically spend on Facebook and Instagram ads in a given month?
Lesnard: We are not able to share detailed information, but what I can tell you is that Facebook is one of the two largest media partners for The North Face. They're a really important media partner of ours for all of our communication.
Technology 202: How are you changing your advertising strategy? Are you shifting some of that spend to Google or other tech platforms?
Lesnard: Absolutely. We have a really strong community and network of consumers on other platforms as well that we're going to leverage.
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TikTokers are taking credit for low turnout at Trump's rally. But the reality is probably much more complicated.
Fewer than 6,500 attendees showed up for a the president's rally on Saturday, despite the campaign's claims it had received more than a million requests for tickets. News outlets were quick to attribute the flop to a viral grass-roots campaign on TikTok and Twitter encouraging teens to register with no intention of going to the rally
But it's unlikely the campaign was the sole reason for the low showing, Travis M. Andrews writes. In fact, entry for the event wasn't limited, so K-pop fans didn't take tickets from any potential attendees. It's likely the viral activism did contribute to the disparity in projected attendees and the small showing, but it's impossible to tell how much.
Trump's campaign denies the TikToker's requests impacted attendance.
“Registering for a rally means you’ve RSVPed with a cellphone number and we constantly weed out bogus numbers, as we did with tens of thousands at the Tulsa rally, in calculating our possible attendee pool,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. “These phony ticket requests never factor into our thinking.”
Some of the no-shows were likely from Trump's own email list, former Obama administration official Tim Fullerton told The Washington Post. “People click buttons,” he said.
Still, the online campaign shows the potential organizing power of TikTok, an app the skews toward Gen Z.
“I do think that we're going to see a lot of that in the lead-up to November. That's a difficult audience to reach, so it could be a powerful tool,” Fullerton said.
Snap's top diversity executive apologized for a controversial slavery-themed filter released for Juneteenth.
The filter, which asked users to smile in order to break chains depicting slavery, quickly sparked controversy. The company disabled the filter and issued an apology. But Snap rejected criticism the product was the result of a lack of diversity at the company.
"The mischaracterization on social media — that White executives at a tech company failed, yet again, to include Black perspectives — is completely untrue," Oona King, Snap's vice president of diversity and inclusion, told employees in an internal memo obtained by the Verge.
She said that the filter was a collaboration between white and black employees but acknowledged the team made a mistake.
“Speaking on behalf of my team, clearly we failed to recognize the gravity of the ‘smile’ trigger,” King wrote in a letter to the company. She said that black team members had vetted the “smile” trigger and the team did not consider how the work would be perceived when used by non-black users.
The filter did not go through the company's usual review process, Snap told the Verge.
Rant and rave
The memo renewed criticism of Snap's internal diversity.
Tiffani Ashley Bell, founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization The Human Utility:
Rafranz Davis, an educator, said the involvement of black employees didn't excuse the misstep:
Google's co-founder has been funding a secret disaster relief charity that uses drones and ex-military personnel.
Sergey Brin is the sole funder of the charity, dubbed Global Support and Development. The organization “has been quietly using high-tech systems to rapidly deliver humanitarian assistance during high-profile disasters, including the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mark Harris at the Daily Beast writes. “These range from drones and superyachts to a gigantic new airship that the outfit apparently hopes will make it easier to get aid supplies into disaster zones.”
Brin founded the charity five years ago at the urging of his yacht's captain after a cyclone hit the port town of Vanuatu near where the boat was sailing. Unlike other billionaire philanthropists, Brin has kept a low profile for the group, which has slowly expanded to 20 full-time employees and 100 contractors since Brin formally registered the group as a nonprofit in 2018.
GSD has raised its profile since the coronavirus pandemic emerged. The group helped set up the first two drive-through test centers in California, it says. It also says it has offered mental-health counseling and other services to first responders in eight U.S. states.
But a higher profile could spark more scrutiny of the group, which, unlike many charities, uses ex-military personnel, experts say.
“There should be an expectation of transparency, to understand how his charity interacts with existing efforts at disaster relief, and so we citizens can examine whether it’s consistent with what democratic institutions want to accomplish,” said Rob Reich, co-director of Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.
Britain will now use contact tracing technology from Apple and Google instead of its own app.
The government scrapped plans for its own app after developers found the technology performed poorly with Apple phones, Kelvin Chan at the Associated Press reports.
“Apple software prevents iPhones from being used effectively for contact tracing unless you’re using Apple’s own technology,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at a briefing. The United Kingdom initially rejected Apple and Google's software because it does not allow governments to centrally collect location data.
More coronavirus news:
Inside the industry
Nextdoor cut one of its features accused of encouraging racial profiling.
The feature allowed users to forward their posts on the social networking app directly to police, Sarah Holder at CityLab reports. The company decided to discontinue the feature in light of scrutiny of its relationship with law enforcement.
"As part of our anti-racism work and our efforts to make Nextdoor a place where all neighbors feel welcome, we have been examining all aspects of our product,” a post from the company announced. “After speaking with members and public agency partners, it is clear that the Forward to Police feature does not meet the needs of our members and only a small percentage of law enforcement agencies chose to use the tool.”
More industry news:
- The Senate Commerce Committee will hold an oversight hearing to examine the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
- The Energy and Commerce Committee will host a hearing on online disinformation on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. The hearing will cover disinformation related to covid-19 and the recent racial unrest.
- Carnegie's Partnership for Countering Influence Operations and Twitter will host an event on influence operations on Twitter on July 9 at 1 p.m.
Before you log off
CNN interviewed Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old grandmother living in Iowa, who urged other TikTok users to register for Trump's Tulsa rally: